Steve Johnson, Creative Commons
Words Can Hurt No Matter The Intention
February 22, 2019
One of my dad’s friends told me a joke; he started by asking me how copper wire was made. Being somewhat young and unable to tell it was a joke, I informed him that it was made by Thomas Edison. He laughed and told me it was invented by two Jews fighting over the same penny. My Jewish father laughed, so I took it as a cue to laugh too and that was that.
The following day, I told the joke to my friends and they laughed too; after we finished laughing, they informed me that they had some funny jokes too. It would be wrong of me to put them in writing, let alone in a school publication. They rattled on about the Holocaust and the differences between Jewish people and pizzas. My friends at the time were confused as to why I did not laugh, after all, I started the jokes, so I should find humor in them as well. I could not fully explain at the time, but even in fourth grade, their jokes were not funny. When I approached the teacher to ask her why my friends were being so hateful, she simply told me that they were just joking with me and that I needed to develop thicker skin, and that was that.
In middle school, I had developed the thicker skin and realized that I could either laugh at the jokes, or be the joke. Every time I laughed, it felt almost like a personal betrayal, not only to myself, but also my dad. I began to be used as a justification for their jokes, I laughed so they should laugh too. I began to lose respect for myself. I was laughing at an event that killed a good number of my father’s family. Then, in eighth grade while reading “The Diary of a Young Girl” in class, my lineage was brought back to light and all the laughter in the world could not cover it up. Some of the edgier kids thought it would be funny to yell Sieg Heil and do the Nazi salute toward me in the halls and all I could do was let it go. I needed thicker skin. They were just joking with me. It was not a big deal. I let it go on for weeks before I finally snapped. I yelled at them and told them how awful they were being and how awful what they were doing was. They told me to chill out, it was just a joke, and that was that.
There is something to be said about jokes, behind each one is a small bit of truth, a small bit of belief in what is being said. I have spent my life educating people on the Holocaust, on the National Socialist German Workers’ party, on the atrocities committed. I have to fact check myself on every word I said because I know that if I get one thing wrong, I will be discredited outright. I have had to verse myself on a faith I do not practice but because it is in my blood and that is enough to turn me into a caricature of greed. I am always the one who has to explain why the joke is not funny, but just once I would like for someone to explain to me why the joke is funny.
I have long since quit laughing. The jokes were never funny in the first place.